Why Not the Colorado Department of Transportation?

A common question is why doesn't the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) take responsibility for the roadside improvements that IPF currently sponsors. Since Highway 82 is a State Highway and since road building and maintenance activities have caused much of the damage to the Pass, shouldn't CDOT be obligated to mitigate those damages?

The quick and easy answer to this very reasonable question is that CDOT has more important projects on which to spend its very limited resources. To give more meaning to this superficial response, it is necessary to give a brief explanation of CDOT's planning process. 

Every year CDOT's five state planning regions undertake a prioritization process that ranks proposed projects against one another. Relatively lightly-traveled and remote sections of highway, like Highway 82 over the Pass, must compete for CDOT resources against more heavily-traveled roads such as Highway 82 below Aspen and Highway 50 between Delta and Montrose. Ranking criteria include urgency, traffic counts (both current and those predicted for the future), safety concerns, local support, and geographical balance. According to most of these criteria, a relatively remote seasonal road such as Highway 82 on the Pass does not rank very high. In addition, there are always many more millions of dollars in proposed projects than there are in available funds. Colorado's growing population and increasing rural development assure that this imbalance between demands and resources will continue indefinitely. Barring significant changes to CDOT's planning process, it is unlikely that Independence Pass will qualify for major funding anytime soon.

In 2001, IPF and CDOT teamed up to carry out the most ambitious project ever undertaken on the Top Cut. The $425,000 project included shaping of the tundra brow, scaling of loose rocks, and installing wire mesh blankets on the Big Cut. The project marked the first time that a "Spyderhoe" excavator, shown above, had been used in Colorado.

When IPF's work requires one-lane road closures, CDOT assists by providing traffic control.

That having been said, we must acknowledge that CDOT has made a major effort to support the work of the Foundation in recent years. The local region has set aside nearly $50,000 per year from its maintenance budget to support IPF projects, and CDOT has been enormously helpful in securing enhancement funds (nearly $200,000 since 1997) from the federal ISTEA program.  IPF and the CDOT regional office work together well and regularly to pool planning and other resources for our mutual benefit. While we are always pressing CDOT for more of a commitment to Independence Pass work, we must give it credit for its many contributions.

The same must be said for the White River National Forest and the Aspen Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service. The Forest Service, like CDOT, has nominal responsibility for the land surrounding Highway 82. Also like CDOT, the USFS has shrinking resources relative to its responsibilities. The Forest Service provided IPF with a $68,000 grant that funded much of our stabilization work in 1999, and it has provided services and support on many other occasions.

We will continue to work closely with CDOT and the USFS to secure their commitments and funding whenever and wherever possible. In the meantime, we must reconcile ourselves to the simple fact that, if the scars on Independence Pass are going to be healed, it is going to have to be IPF that accomplishes it!

High above the Big Cut boulder stabilization wall, the edge of the "tundra brow"--was shaped, then fertilized and planted with native grass seed, and finally covered with turf mat blankets to hold the soil in place and prevent further downward erosion. Over time, the combination of the soil blankets and the grass should help reestablish native vegetation.